Marking the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Joe Biden delivered his first prime-time address since taking office last night.
During Biden’s 24-minute speech, he condemned hate crimes against Asian Americans, announced plans for a website to streamline vaccination scheduling, and said that by May 1, every American adult will be eligible to sign up for their spot in the vaccine line. Biden emphasized a shared responsibility to remain vigilant as the country edges closer to a post-pandemic future, and set a goal of July 4 to mark both our nation’s independence as well as “our independence from this virus.”
The speech was utterly uncontroversial and had a lot in it that should make people across the political spectrum happy: Things are moving ahead of schedule, vaccines are being made available at additional locations, and there aren’t any new restrictions being put in place.
But if you missed the speech and only saw Fox News’ coverage of it, you’d come away with a completely different impression.
Less than three minutes into Biden’s speech, Fox News’ broadcast added a bizarre shot of Tucker Carlson’s face as he reacted to the address in real time, as though to telegraph to viewers how they should feel about the speech as it was happening. “LIVE TUCKER REACTION,” read the graphic in the lower right corner of the screen. “HIS RESPONSE IS NEXT."
As Biden concluded his remarks, Carlson broke in to declare it “a very strange address, surreal at points, like the Biden presidency itself,” before going into full attack mode and distorting Biden’s aspirational July 4 celebration.
“But the president said, if you take that shot and wear your mask and listen to Dr. Fauci, it is possible, not assured, but possible, that you might be able to gather in small groups with the ones you love for the Fourth of July,” he said. “We might have to rescind that right, but it’s possible if you’re obedient, you’ll get it,” he added, inserting words into Biden’s mouth.
“Who are you talking to? This is a free people. This is a free country. How dare you tell us who we can spend the Fourth of July with?” asked an angry Carlson.
Carlson’s first guest, serial COVID misinformer Alex Berenson, mocked Biden’s “bizarro speech in this bizarro world where we are all still desperately afraid of the coronavirus, where cases haven't fallen 90 percent since January and hospitalization 70 percent, where, you know, we know exactly who is at risk from this and how most of us are at very, very low to no risk from this.”
“The only good thing about the speech, from my point of view, was the words ‘zero COVID’ were not uttered,” said Berenson, apparently concerned that Biden wanted to completely eradicate the virus before signaling the ability to safely resume normal life. “So apparently, that fantasy is not one that the White House is going to indulge in, which is really good, and there wasn’t a lot of talk about making vaccines mandatory.”
There wasn’t any talk about making vaccines mandatory, actually. Even so, Berenson and Carlson indulged that conspiracy theory, saying that it wouldn’t “shock” him if the plan is to make vaccines “effectively mandatory.”
Tucker's reaction to Biden's speech: “He said, there will be enough vaccines for every person in America... and if you take that shot, things potentially could get back to normal. No mention at all of the people who might not want to take the shot.” pic.twitter.com/t4r13YVDmr
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) March 12, 2021
Later in the show, Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow complained that Biden didn’t “talk at all about the fact that this virus came from China. He didn’t talk about the fact that the virus is coming over our borders.”
Next up, on Hannity, host Sean Hannity whined that Biden didn’t praise former President Donald Trump during his speech. Hannity said that Biden “needs to pick up the phone and I suggest call Mar-a-Lago and, yeah, bring unity to the country, as he says he so desperately wants, and thank President Donald Trump because a few moments ago, he tried to take credit for everything that Donald Trump did on COVID-19. Three vaccines thanks to Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed.”
Hannity then went on to continue to promote conspiracy theories about Biden’s mental well-being, saying that Biden “is a guy who is clearly not doing well and the last three weeks alone have been extremely alarming."
At the top of The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham criticized Biden for delivering a speech that “was supposed to be inspiring,” but “seemed a tad like a funeral for America.” Ingraham bragged that while Biden’s speech was “a little bit over 20 minutes or so,” Trump “routinely spoke for quadruple that, often going off script whenever we felt like it, because he was confident in his own views.”
Ingraham claims the media has a double standard because they're praising Biden's comments about normalcy possibly beginning on July 4, but they criticized Trump's insane push to reopen the country by Easter 2020, just days into the pandemic pic.twitter.com/TkeSnnr6J0
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 12, 2021
Ingraham’s guests, Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Federalist senior editor Mollie Hemingway, and Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel all took turns bashing the speech and complaining about how Trump was treated by the media. Hemingway went so far as to say it was “un-American” for Biden to say he hoped that people would be able to safely have Independence Day cookouts with their friends and families.
“And then to pick Independence Day as the day where he says he might allow people to gather is just so un-American, and just -- Joe Biden doesn’t get to tell me when I can have a barbecue in my backyard, and certainly not to tie that to Independence Day. It does feel like we've lost something as a country that so many people are willing to do this type of draconian restrictions from the government for this level of a problem. If they're willing to do it for this situation, for this length of time without enough merit, it's a very bad sign for the days to come.”
On Friday morning’s edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade picked up where Thursday evening’s ragefest left off. Kilmeade accused Biden of obsessing over the past. “Let’s talk about the future moving forward,” said Kilmeade, immediately before hammering Biden for heaping insufficient praise on Trump. “Every time he has a chance to praise the previous administration, he not only doesn’t praise, he kicks them in the groin.”
Brian Kilmeade: “We don't need to go over the 500,000 dead, we had that moment. Let's talk about the future moving forward. Every time he has a chance to praise the previous administration, he not only doesn't praise, he kicks them in the groin.” pic.twitter.com/n9OupjYfAF
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) March 12, 2021
It’s easy to mock the deranged ramblings of the likes of Carlson, Hannity, Ingraham, and Kilmeade, but they are influential people with loyal fan bases.
Since Biden’s election, Carlson has taken to pushing COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theories. He called a proposed plan for distribution “eugenics,” has tried to foment anger by playing to conspiracy theories about Bill Gates, allowed his show to become a platform for vaccine misinformation, and recently said that only the “delicate, timid, and effeminate” listen to public health experts.
Just days ago, Ingraham instructed her viewers to “just ignore” public health experts. In addition, she’s speculated that the COVID-19 vaccine is part of a plot to funnel money to the pharmaceutical industry, mocked the virus’s fatality rate, baselessly claimed that “the left perversely loves the pandemic,” and spent much of the past year promoting hydroxychloroquine, a drug touted by Trump that has not been found to be an effective COVID-19 treatment.
For Hannity’s part, he’s been remarkably consistent ... in the sense that he’s been consistently wrong about pretty much everything related to this virus. He claimed that “coronavirus hysteria” was a plot to “demoralize” Trump supporters in the run-up to last year’s election, he came to Trump’s defense after it turned out that Trump misled the public about the threat posed by the virus, and he said he was “beginning to have doubts” about getting the COVID vaccine once Biden took office. Most consequentially, Hannity spent the early months of the pandemic making bizarre and false claims, such as suggesting that vaping could prevent people from contracting the virus and that the flu is more dangerous than the coronavirus, as well as outright telling his audience to ignore COVID-19 warnings from Democrats because “everything that you hear and see on television, on the radio, from any Democrat” was actually just about the election.
The administration may have changed, but Fox News’ wildly irresponsible and inaccurate COVID-19 coverage continues. Before Biden spoke a single word, it was obvious that the response from Fox pundits would be to slam him for it.
For more than a year, Fox has treated the pandemic more as a political problem than a public health one. While Trump was horribly botching the response, Fox hosts cheered him every step of the way. Now that things are improving, they're doing their best to try to drag down Biden -- and claim Trump was right all along.